Ernst Haas is unquestionably one of the best-known, most prolific and most published photographers of the twentieth century. He is most associated with a vibrant colour photography which, for decades, was much in demand by the illustrated press. This colour work, published in the most influential magazines in Europe and America, also fed a constant stream of books, and these too enjoyed great popularity. But although his colour work earned him fame around the world, in recent decades it has often been derided by critics and curators as 'overly commercial,' and too easily accessible—or in the language of curators, not sufficiently 'serious.' As a result, his reputation has suffered in comparison with a younger generation of colour photographers, notably Eggleston, Shore and Meyerowitz.
Paradoxically, however, there was also a side of his work that was almost entirely hidden from view. Parallel to his commissioned work Haas constantly made images for his own interest, and these pictures show an entirely different aspect of Haas’s sensibility: they are far more edgy, loose, complex and ambiguous—in short, far more radical than the work which earned him fame. Haas never printed these pictures in his lifetime, nor did he exhibit them, probably believing that they would not be understood or appreciated. Nonetheless, these works are of great complexity, and rival (and sometimes surpass) anything done at the time by his fellow photographers. This book is intended to correct the record.
Ernst Haas has long fascinated me for just these reasons. My critical thesis about him was that he was an innovator who "became invisible" because he was so widely and so thoroughly copied. If you do things no one has ever done before, but then everybody else does them too, what's left to distinguish your original work from that of the later imitators?
I doubt this book will succeed in rehabilitating Haas, especially as there can be no case for authorship—a book not directed or approved by the photographer can't entirely be a true reflection of the photographer's work even if he took all the pictures. But it's fascinating to see the attempt made so forthrightly. I'll be looking forward to seeing this.
Ernst Haas, Greenwich Village, New York, 1950s
Read a little more about Haas in context here. Presumably many of the images included in this book can be seen at the Ernst Haas Estate website under the heading "Collection of Newly Discovered Photographs."
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Maarten B.: "I don't comment often but this one is really a must-have book. Wonderful."
Featured Comment by M: "Thanks for posting this. Haas' work has inspired me almost my entire photographic career. I don't think he has ever gotten the acclaim he deserves. First the art world considered only black-and-white photography to be art. Then, after Haas opened everyone's eyes to what color could do, he was dismissed again in favor of color photographers of the '70s and '80s. No one did so many breathtakingly beautiful photographs as he did, in my opinion. Can't wait to get this book."
Featured Comment by Jim Richardson: "Not taking Ernst Haas seriously is a bunch of hooey. This is the guy that made my generations say 'You can do that with color? Wow!' And then lots of us went out and tried to do it. But he was also a great teacher. I once met him in the early '70s and saw him working with students. And his message was 'You can do that with color!' Amazingly enabling. Much of the look of our world in the later third of the twentieth century came straight out of his camera. You gotta take that seriously. (Let the revisionist snobs mull that over.) I owe him."
Featured Comment by Rob Atkins: "I've been spending a lot of time with Color Correction since it arrived a week ago. Steidl has done justice to a master of color photography, making up for some of the shortcomings, in my mind, of the 1989 Abrams book Ernst Haas Color Photography. The reproduction is superb in the new book, and it goes a long way to establishing Ernst in his rightful place as an innovator and artist of unique distinction. Color correction indeed.
Not every photograph in the book is a masterpiece, honestly. But all are the work of a master, and as such, I want to see everything. We can learn from Ernst's seconds and thirds, as we can from his select images; they all come from the eye and mind of a master photographer. To quote Edward Steichen: 'He is a free spirit, untrammeled by tradition and theory, who has gone out and found beauty unparalleled in photography.'"
Featured Comment by Koen Lageveen: "I'm no Haas connoisseur, but while looking to buy one of his books I ran into this one and bought it outright. It is wonderful in every way, also as a book about Haas I guess, but perhaps not the book of his work to own because as you say he didn't edit or even see it. Perhaps someone can advise, which is? In the meantime I will say that I thoroughly enjoy this book and find it is full of very inspirational color photography."
Mike replies: There are good Haas books but no great ones (unless this one is). His great popular hit was The Creation, and I also have Color Photography which I like better. But honestly I see more interesting things from him just surfing the web, and I don't turn to either of those books very often just for pleasure.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "Addendum: I just received this book and have only had time to fly over it once. But it's certainly a gotta-have for early color junkies like me. All this talk of color lately, and my natural proclivity toward good color, are prompting me to see if we can put together a good 'early color' show at the museum (Art Institute of Chicago). We have a pretty good permanent collection but we also know where to get some terrific loans. And we have new photo galleries opening shortly and in the next few years. Hmmm...stay tuned."